The Best Space Heaters
Space heaters are a great way to give your home’s main heating system a little extra help, and most people will be very happy with the best models we’ve found for small and large rooms. These two heaters were our picks when this guide was published last winter, and they’ve proven they’re still the best after a total of 87 hours of research. For this year’s update, we conducted a feature-to-feature comparison against 72 new competitors. This includes 30 hours of research and 27 hours of hands-on testing of 12 finalists performed by PhD physicist Jim Shapiro in a controlled environment, using a variety of instruments to measure temperature, humidity levels, and the amount of noise each heater made.
If you need to quickly warm up small spaces, like a modest 10-foot-by-11-foot bedroom or office, nothing can beat the Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater’s low price, compact size, light three-pound weight, rapid performance, ease of use, and great warranty (though it is a bit noisy, thanks to its fan). It’s roughly the same size as a loaf of bread, so it’ll easily travel between rooms and fit most anywhere you’d care to use it. The Lasko 754200 was the second-fastest heater we tested this year, coming in second place to the Vornado VH10. But that race was close, and as the Lasko costs around a quarter of the price of the VH10 (as of this writing), we’ve chosen the Lasko as our main pick once again.
For a larger space like a master bedroom or living room that you plan to warm for hours at a time, get De’Longhi’s TRD0715T Safeheat 1500W—it’s a 14.5-inch-by-6.3-inch-by-25.2-inch radiator-style unit that efficiently, silently, and steadily puts out plenty of heat, and it can maintain a set temperature on a schedule with its built-in thermostat and timer.
Nothing else that we’ve looked at over the past three years has been able to match the reliability of its mechanical timer, the amount of heat it can silently generate, or the way it continues to produce heat for a full hour after it’s been turned off. The catch? It’s slow to heat up, weighs a hefty 24 pounds, and gets pretty hot to the touch.
These picks are so good that they routinely sell out each winter. (We have a couple of runner-up options if you can’t find our picks once the cold weather hits.)
If you can’t get the Lasko, we suggest the Vornado VH10 Heater. The VH10 was the fastest heater we tested this year, raising the temperature of our test area higher than any other heater could manage in the same amount of time. It’s much more expensive than our main pick (and went 3.3°F higher), but that extra cash nets you blisteringly-fast heating capabilities, eight different temperature levels, quieter operation than our main pick, and a casing that stays surprisingly cool to the touch (considering how much heat it generates). Plus, there’s a five-year warranty—that’s two years longer than our main pick.
If our favorite large-room pick is impossible to find, get the De’Longhi EW7507EB Radiator. It performed identically to the TRD0715T Safeheat 1500W in our heating tests, but it has slight disadvantages—it’s usually a few bucks more expensive, and it has a digital timer and controls, so you’ll have reset it every time you unplug it.
Table of contents
- Choosing the right size for your room
- Notes on heater prices and availability
- The best heater for small rooms
- Flaws in the small room’s pick
- The runner-up for small rooms
- The best heater for large rooms
- Flaws in the large room’s pick
- The runner-up for large rooms
- How we picked and tested
- Radiant/infrared heaters
- Convection heaters
- What about micathermic heaters?
- What to look for in a heater
- New models we considered
- Our tests
- The new competition
- Heaters we dismissed in the past
- A word on safety
- What to look forward to
Choosing the right size for your room
When buying a heater, it’s important to consider the size of space you’re heating. According to our research, you’ll need between 10 and 15 watts of power per square foot (which varies based on how well-insulated the room is and whether or not there are windows or doors). So a 100-square-foot bedroom, for example, requires at least a 1,000-watt heater to keep things toasty.
Generally, the most powerful heater you can plug into a standard North American outlet maxes out at 1,500 watts. As the only heat source, it would only be suitable for heating a meager 150 square feet. But as we outline in the safety section of this guide, space heaters are designed to be used as a supplemental heat source, not a primary one. So even with this 1,500-watt limitation, there’s no reason why a good space heater won’t be able to raise the temperature in the area around it by a few degrees.
Notes on heater prices and availability
We do everything we can to recommend products that are affordable and easy to buy. But over the past couple of years, heaters have proven to be a problem. The prices and availability on these things fluctuate wildly over the colder months of the year.
During the polar vortex of 2014, we saw the cost of our Lasko pick double almost overnight at a number of outlets—and that’s only if we could even find them in stock. Most places, Amazon included, didn’t have any models of our Lasko pick available until early spring. So if you think you might need a heater this winter don’t wait for the cold weather to hit. Buy one early: the sooner, the better.
The best heater for small rooms
If you want to quickly heat an office or a small bedroom—or want a compact heater that can easily travel between them—the Lasko 754200 is your best option. Despite its small size, it was the second-most-powerful heater in the test. It generated more heat in 20 minutes than almost anything else we tested, raising our 11-foot-by-13-foot testing room’s temperature by 7.4°F. The only heater that bested it was the pricier Vornado VH10, which increased our test area’s temperature by 10.7°F (a 3.3°F difference) in the same amount of time. The VH10’s 10.7°F increase is faster and greater than any heater we’ve tested for this guide in nearly four years, but we don’t think it’s worth spending that much money for that small difference in heating capability when the Lasko is almost as effective for close to a quarter of the price. The Lasko gives you some of the best performance with easily the best value—for most people using the device only a few months of the year, that’s good enough.
For a space heater, it’s pretty safe. After running it for 80 minutes straight, the temperature of the heater’s outer casing topped off at 133°F—one of the lowest surface operating temperatures of any of the hardware we looked at. (To put this in context, one heater’s surface measured as low as 113°F; others went well over 200°F.) The reasonable surface temperature minimizes risks to kids and pets. It also makes the machine easy to turn off, unplug, and relocate, which most people could do one-handed thanks to its molded-plastic carrying handle.
For added safety, the Lasko comes equipped with an overheat switch that will automatically turn it off if it starts to run at dangerously high temperatures, which can happen if it’s being blocked by a piece of furniture, a curtain, or the floor (say, if it was knocked over by a child or pet while operating).
It’s pretty easy to fit the heater into compact spaces as well. Measuring six inches by seven inches by 9.2 inches (about the size of a big loaf of bread) and weighing a little more than three pounds, the Lasko can easily fit into a nook in an office or a corner by a breakfast table. It comes equipped with a six-foot power cord, which should be enough length for a small to mid-sized room without using an extension cord.
Electrically, with an estimated monthly energy cost of $33 per month, it isn’t the least expensive heater to operate, but it’s still pretty reasonable. That price assumes that it will run eight hours a day for 30 days straight—we wanted to provide a maximum possible operating expense and let readers adjust to calculate their own probable usage cost. Use it for only an hour every day for a month, and it’s more like $4.13.
Lasko backs its hardware with a three-year limited warranty, which is pretty nice coverage for its low cost. That’s better than most other companies’ warranties, with the exception of Vornado, which typically offers five years of coverage.
Aside from that reassurance, there aren’t many trusted editorial reviews (beyond this one). But literally thousands of customers like the Lasko 754200 on Amazon. It’s the most popular space heater on the site, with a 4.3-star average review from 6,342 shoppers, 61 percent of which awarded the heater five stars. Home Depot shoppers gave the 754200 4.4 out of five stars, and 89 percent of those who bought it there that were polled would recommend it to others. Similar levels of satisfaction could be found at Best Buy and Walmart.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Like all fan-driven heaters, it’s a little loud. We measured 44 decibels of sound from a distance of six feet away (roughly the same sound level as a refrigerator when its compressor runs). This noise level was middle-of-the-road for all of the fan-forced heaters we tested this year. The quietest fan-forced heater we tested, for example, was the Vornado VH200, which operates at 33 decibels. At the other end of the spectrum was the Holmes HFH436WGL-UM, which produces 46 decibels of noise. For reference, this decibel chart states that the decibel level of an average conversation is about 60 decibels.
The Lasko 754200 has an overheat sensor, but there’s no tip-over switch to ensure that the heater turns off if it’s knocked over. Tipped-over heaters tend to overheat, which could be a dangerous situation—then again, you should never leave a space heater on and unattended, especially with pets or young children around.
It’s also worth noting that the 754200 only offers heating levels on its analog controls. There’s no true temperature control, but that’s not such a big deal. When you’re cold, turn it up; when you’re hot, turn it down. There’s no timer either, but remember, this thing is cheap. You can always inexpensively add a separate timer so that you could, for example, warm up the kitchen in advance on a winter morning (we like this one).
Finally, the Lasko 754200 doesn’t hold on to the heat it produces once it has been turned off due to the fact that it has a relatively small thermal mass. But that’s a problem you’ll find with any ceramic plate heater, so it’s hard to fault it for that.
Runner-up for small rooms
In previous years, we’ve found that the Lasko 754200 can become unavailable once the weather turns cold. If that happens, get the Vornado VH10.
Yes, it’s a lot more money than our main pick for small rooms—the Lasko is a much better deal (although you can sometimes find the VH10 in the ballpark of $80, that’s still pricey). However, the two heaters were the top of the heap in our 20-minute heating test. This Vornado raised the temperature by 10.7°F, compared to 7.4°F for the Lasko. That’s a difference of 3.3°F, showing a pretty wide margin between the first and second place contenders in our test.
In addition to heating up our test area faster, the Vornado also beat the Lasko in our maximum surface temperature test, as it stayed 43 degrees cooler (137 degrees compared to the Lasko’s 180) after 80 minutes of constant operation. Much of this likely has to do with the VH10’s design: It weighs 1.3 pounds more and has a larger footprint than our main pick does, meaning it probably has a larger amount of heat shielding. It’s quieter too, putting out 36 decibels of sound on the highest of its eight heat settings, compared to the Lasko’s 44 decibels. It also comes with a five-year warranty—two more years of coverage than the Lasko.
Despite all of the advantages, we don’t feel that the VH10 deserves to be anything but a runner-up to the Lasko 754200 for one key reason: price. Its cost is a steep premium to pay for a space heater that only makes an area a little bit warmer, stays a bit cooler to the touch, and is just slightly quieter than a much cheaper piece of hardware. Our main pick works nearly as well at close to a quarter of the price.
The best heater for large rooms
We were told in early December 2015 that this model is being discontinued. If you can still find it in stores, you should pick one up. If not, please see our runner-up choice below.
The best heater for a larger area is the De’Longhi TRD0715T Safeheat 1,500W Portable Oil-filled Radiator. It’s efficient, it’s nearly silent, it comes with a foolproof built-in timer, it cranks out plenty of heat, and it stays warm even once it’s turned off. This has been our pick for best portable heater for larger spaces for the past three years, and it makes the grade again this time around after going up against 16 different heaters.
Like all oil-filled radiators, it doesn’t give you instant heat. After 20 minutes, the De’Longhi was only capable of raising the temperature of our test area by 2.2°F (the Lasko 754200 heated it by 7.4°F in 20 minutes). But after two hours of operation, the De’Longhi heated the larger of our two test areas to 75.8°F—that’s 1.8°F more than the Lasko heater could manage in the same period.
In fact, after running for two hours, this raised the test area’s temperature more than any other heater we tested. Plus, all that oil gives it a large enough thermal mass to keep putting out heat for roughly an hour after the hardware turns off.
The Safeheat has a basic thermostat that’s controlled by a slider which can use that thermal mass to maintain a set temperature as the machine cycles on and off. It’s not as precise a temperature control as a digital system, but it gets the job done. The De’Longhi kept our test area heated pretty consistently—temperature variance was less than four degrees over a one-hour period. A number of the ceramic heaters we tested could match this feat—but to do it, they had to run regularly, with their fans kicking up a bunch of noise. This fan-free machine does it in silence, save for the occasional ping of its metal fins expanding or contracting.
The Safeheat’s 24-hour analog timer switch is another nice feature, especially if you want to take the morning chill out of your bedroom or keep the frost out of your pipes in the basement. Just schedule the radiator to turn on or off when it best suits you. There are other machines that have a more modern digital timer, but we prefer this one’s analog version—it ensures you don’t have to reset the thing every time you unplug the heater.
The Safeheat TRD0715T is reasonably cheap to operate as well. When used for supplemental heating, it’ll cost you about $35 a month to run if you have run it eight hours a day for 30 days, or just over $4 if you use it for an hour a day. That’s not the lowest operating cost of the heaters we tested this year—the Lasko 754200 and Vornado AH10, for example, cost about $33 and $25 to run per month, respectively—but it’s still a very reasonable way to add some additional warmth to your home.
There aren’t any editorial reviews for the Safeheat, more a result of its obscurity rather than any lack of value. But on Amazon, reviews for the Safeheat were overwhelmingly positive. The hardware earned a 4.1-star average from 998 people at the time of writing (with more than half of those providing it with a five-star rating). Also, after I submitted my results, Wirecutter founder Brian Lam told me that he owns a Safeheat and doesn’t have any complaints about it to share. He’s smart and picky, so I’d call that a good sign that you’ll like it too.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
As quiet and efficient as the Safeheat is, there were a few things we didn’t like about it. For starters, its surface gets pretty hot. After running it on its highest setting for 80 minutes, Jim found that the Safeheat’s maximum surface temperature hit 225°F, which was the highest surface temperature we encountered in our testing this year. The only thing that would run hotter is a radiant/infrared heater, and we don’t recommend those.
Next, it’s pretty bulky. As it weighs 24 pounds and takes up 9.1 inches by 13.8 inches by 25.2 inches of space, calling the Safeheat a “portable” heater is hard to do with a straight face. It can be rolled around on caster wheels, so its heft shouldn’t be an issue as long as you don’t need to haul it up or down a flight of stairs on a regular basis. And when you’ve got the heater where you want it, the wheels can be tucked away.
Jim also identified one more minor issue that’s kind of a bummer: To be able to use the De’Longhi at all, you have to set its timer first—even if it’s only to turn it off for, say, five minutes or turn on when you wake up in the morning. But even with the timer set and the heater left on, it won’t run constantly. It’ll turn itself on and off throughout the day to maintain your desired temperature.
Some people might have an issue with the fact that for the first few times that you use it, the Safeheat emits a foul odor. But most other oil-filled radiators do as well. This is because some of the radiator’s oil is left on the surface of the heater after manufacturing. Once the oil has been burned off, the smell disappears. Just use it in the garage a couple of times before you bring it inside.
Finally, Consumer Reports gave the Safeheat a lousy mark of 39 out of 100 when they reviewed it a few years back, but we don’t think that their assessment of the hardware was fair. The CR test criteria looked at how much the hardware could heat a room in 15 minutes and how well it could heat an individual sitting next to it within the same time frame.
In comparison to ceramic heaters, which are designed to push out a massive amount of heat in a short amount of time, an oil-filled radiator is always going to come up short. Fifteen minutes is scarcely enough time for a heater like the TRD0715T to get up to temperature, let alone heat a room. Given how much we typically respect Consumer Report’s review and testing protocols, we were puzzled by why they’d have tested the hardware this way.
Runner-up for large rooms
If our De’Longhi radiator pick above is unavailable, get the De’Longhi EW7507EB Radiator. Both radiators performed identically in our 20-minute and two-hour heat tests. But our top pick, the Safeheat, is about a pound heavier.
Additionally, our pick’s analog controls give it a significant advantage over the EW7507EB. The EW7507EB has a digital control system, but no internal battery. So every time you unplug it to move it to another location or the power kicks out in your home, it will have to be reprogrammed. Not cool. Despite these minor irritants, if you can’t get your hands on a De’Longhi TRD0715T Safeheat, the nearly identical price and performance make the EW7507EB a good choice as a plan B.
How we picked and tested
Space heaters can usually be slotted into two basic categories: radiant heaters and convection heaters. Both of our main picks fall into the second category, and a quick explanation of the difference in the technologies makes it pretty clear why that is.
There are two major technologies in radiant-style heaters: wire element and quartz. We don’t think either are right for most people’s homes.
Wire element heaters are what most people think of when someone says space heater. They operate the same way that household toasters do: You plug the heater into the wall, turn it on, and just a little too much electricity is sent coursing through an array of high-resistance wires. These wires almost instantly start to glow red-hot and heat up to temperatures as high as 1,000°F. (Yes, that’s dangerous.) The heat is directed outwards from the wires with the help of a reflective backing or a fan warming up a small chunk of space around the heater.
Quartz element heaters are a little safer than wire element heaters. They sheath the heater’s wire element inside of a quartz tube. This quartz sheath also insulates the wire, making the heater more efficient and allowing it to heat up faster without using as much electricity as an unsheathed wire element does. As with wire element heaters, you get a boatload of radiant heat that can be pushed around the room by a fan. It works fast, but the heat dissipates quickly after they’ve been shut off.
The better choice for most people is a modern convection heater—these are safer, more efficient, and better able to perform while operating at lower temperatures.
There are two main types of convection heater: ceramic plate heaters and oil-filled radiators. Both can be great—safe, satisfying, and plenty warm—but the one you need depends on what you want to use it for.
Ceramic plate heaters, perfect for quickly heating up a small space, are wire element heaters’ sane, younger brother. One of our picks, the Lasko 754200, is in this category. They’re small, they’re fast, and they use a fan to push warm air away from their elements. But here’s the big difference: With a much lower surface temperature—in fact, the lowest surface temperature you’ll find on most space heaters on the market—they’re far safer than older radiant machines. This is because the heating element is encased in (you guessed it) ceramic plates. Unfortunately, also like a radiant heater, they don’t hold on to their heat for too long after they’re turned off. And the fan can be noisy.
Oil-filled radiators, with a large thermal core that holds heat even after the unit turns off, are the choice for slowly and silently heating a large space. Our other pick, the De’Longhi TRD0715T Safeheat, is in this category. These work like a hot water or steam radiator—except instead of drawing heated fluid from a boiler, they use an electrical heating element to warm up oil stored in the heater’s fins. Cooler air enters through the bottom, passes over the heated fins, and flows outward from the top and into the room, creating a circulating loop of heat. They don’t use a fan, so operation is practically silent, making them a good choice for use while you’re watching TV or in a bedroom at night. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, an oil-filled radiator is a sealed system, so you’ll never have to top it off. The drawbacks: Relative to ceramic plate heaters, they tend to be bigger, heavier, and slower to heat up a room.
What about micathermic heaters?
Micathermic heaters use both radiant heating and convection heating to warm up the area you use them in. The hardware is comprised of two main elements: radiant heating coils and a thin sheet of a mica, a mineral that handles high temperatures exceptionally well. When the heating coils underneath of the mica sheet are powered, they produce infrared radiation, which heats up the mica. The mica in turn, warms the air around it, drawing in cool air and pushing out what it’s warmed, thus heating your room.
The great thing about micathermic heaters is that they heat up faster than a ceramic plate heater can and produce heat more quickly than an oil-filled radiator can. Additionally, while long and tall, micathermic hardware has very little girth and is significantly thinner than most oil-filled radiators, so it could be a great choice for individuals looking to jam a heater into a small space. The not-so-great thing about micathermic heaters is that while they heat up quickly, they don’t retain much heat once you turn them off, so you can expect the temperature in the room you’re using it in to drop off noticeably shortly after the heater switches off. Considering all these details, a micathermic device is not so much a heater that’s better than the picks in this guide—it just splits the difference.
They’re also kind of hard to find. As part of our research for this piece, we visited a number of big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Costco. We were unable to find a single micathermic heater for sale or anyone who knew what one was. Online, the pickings were a little better, but not by much. Amazon, for example, lists a small number of micathermic heaters online. But when I checked with the hardware manufacturers to see if they were still being made, most of them were no longer in production. De’Longhi had a number of different models on their site, but they’re currently only actually producing one micathermic unit. Long story short: As they don’t offer an advantage over other heating technologies and are increasingly difficult to find, we don’t really recommend micathermic hardware to anyone.
What to look for in a heater
Beyond just finding a heater that works well and isn’t dangerous, here are more features most people would want:
- Extra safety controls: At a minimum, look for a heat sensor that shuts the heater down if it becomes dangerously hot. A tip-over switch, which turns off a heater that’s fallen on its side, is a good additional feature you’ll find on some products.
- Portability: If the hardware’s too heavy to easily lift, it should have built-in wheels so you don’t break your back taking it from room to room. And if it’s small and light enough to carry around your home, it should have a handle that remains cool to the touch even if the heater’s been recently used.
- Heat settings and timers: A heater should be able to adjust the amount of heat it’s putting out, ideally with a somewhat-accurate built-in thermostat. A timer, so it can turn on or shut off at a set time, is also nice.
- Low noise: The hardware you pick should be as quiet as possible. No one wants to listen to a heater blasting away while they watch a movie or try to sleep.
- Oscillation: If you decide to buy a fan-forced ceramic heater, having the option to oscillate the device from side to side allows the heater to spread its heat to a larger area than a stationary fan can manage.
- Cord storage: Space heaters should be easy to store when they’re not needed. Many have built-in cord management systems.
New models we considered
This is the fourth year we’ve tested and recommended space heaters. It’s not a category that changes much from year to year. To find what new (and old) hardware would be available this winter, we looked to some of the most popular online sites for home hardware—Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, and Costco.
Not too surprisingly, we found that most of what we’ve tested in the past is still being sold. That said, we did manage to find a few new pieces of hardware that were either new or passed over in a previous version of the guide due to space considerations.
Between what we found from our own scouting and the latest info from Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports, we came up with a list of 73 new heaters. Some key criteria helped us narrow down this list to just 16 pieces of gear. Anything that didn’t offer basic safety features was nixed. Anything without an ETL, CSA, or UL? Gone. Any hardware that had poor user reviews (or no user reviews) was cut, as was anything that we saw online or in a store but couldn’t find listed on the manufacturer’s website.
In the end, including our two category leaders from last year, I wound up with two different oil-filled radiators (listed first) and 10 fan-forced ceramic plate heaters:
- De’Longhi TRD0715T Safeheat
- De’Longhi TRD40615T
- Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat
- Comfort Zone CZ499
- Crane EE-8079
- De’Longhi HVY1030
- Dyson AM09
- Holmes HFH436WGL-UM
- Vornado VH200
- Vornado VH10
- Vornado TVH500
- Bionaire BCH9214RE-BM
We also identified an additional four heaters that we’ll be testing later this fall once they become available:
To keep our test results rigorously scientific and accurate, we asked Dr. Jim Shapiro to test our heater picks, as he has in years past. Jim has a physics degree from MIT, as well as a Masters of Science and PhD in mathematical physics from UCLA. He has taught geophysics at Texas A&M University, worked in the petroleum industry as a geophysicist, and has authored a pair of books: one on the inner workings of everyday hardware and a second called In Your Head that explores mental calculations done without a pencil and paper or the aid of a computer. He’s the perfect choice to handle the data-intensive testing required to measure a heater’s performance in a controlled environment.
Jim tested each heater in an incredibly rigorous series of tests outlined below. We used two rooms in Jim’s home as a test space. The first was a bedroom measuring 11 feet by 13 feet in size. It has two outside walls with a double-pane window covered by an insulated shade in each wall. The second room measured 15 feet by 15 feet and has two outside walls: one with two windows and the other with a sliding glass door. Both the glass door and the windows were sealed and covered with insulated blinds for the duration of the test. Before he began running his tests each day, Jim waited until the late morning when his house’s temperature was stable and turned off his home’s heating system for the duration of each test.
In each test space, we looked at the following:
- Initial room temperature: This was necessary for us to accurately gauge the rest of the tests we were running. Starting temperatures, depending on the day, ranged between 70 and 72°F.
- Heating rate: How much would each heater, when run at its highest setting, raise the temperature of our test areas after a 20-minute period and after one hour?
- Temperature maintenance: We tested how well each heater maintained the temperatures of our test areas over a two-hour period.
- Heating consistency: We checked the temperature in each corner of our test areas to measure how evenly each heater warmed the rooms after running for 20 minutes.
- Minimum and maximum heat setting: We checked to see the minimum and maximum level of heating each piece of hardware was capable of providing.
- Maximum surface temperature: This is how hot each heater got after operating for 20 minutes.
- Humidity tests: Heaters have a reputation for drying out air. We measured the initial humidity levels in our tests areas, then noted the change after 80 minutes of operation. (Spoiler alert: The findings were pretty consistent from model to model. We only saw a three to five percent drop in humidity with each heater after 80 minutes running. If you need to prevent that, check out our humidifier guide.)
- Decibel level: We measured how loud each heater was from a distance of six feet away.
- Operating costs: We calculated the energy cost for using each heater if it were on for eight hours a day for 30 days at 12 cents per kWh (based on the average US price of electricity per a 2011 study by the Energy Information Administration).
This is the same testing environment and methodology we’ve used for the past three years.
In addition to all of the number-driven data we were after, we also looked at subjective issues surrounding the hardware—what kind of heating technology is used, cord length, whether the heaters have digital or analog controls, the presence of a timer, thermostat accuracy, safety features, size, weight, and build quality. We considered convenience features (like a carry handle or wheels, and if it was a pain to set up or if it could be used right out of the box). This qualitative data, combined with the quantitative test results, revealed the clear favorites. Finally, we kept and used the winning hardware for the guide—the Lasko 754200 and the De’Longhi Safeheat—and used it on a regular basis in Jim’s household. This was to see if there was any drop in performance over time and, additionally, to have them on-hand when the time came to test once more. Aside from a bit of cosmetic wear and tear on the Lasko at the hands of the house cleaning service that Jim employs, the two heaters are still working as well as the day we first took them out of the box to test them, even after three years of service. As such, we felt no need to replace the hardware and test them again, relying instead on the readings that Jim collected last year.
The new competition
There are a ton of cheap portable heaters out there, but they’re all, by and large, crap.
The Vornado ATH1 Whole Room Tower Heater was our runner-up pick from last year’s guide. It proved capable of warming up our test area almost as quickly as the Lasko 754200. For an extra $95 (at the time of writing), you get easy-to-use touch-sensitive controls that the Lasko lacks, a fan that adjusts automatically to go faster or slower depending on the heating needs of the area in which it’s deployed, and a nine-hour timer (but you have to reset that if the unit is unplugged). It also comes with a five-year warranty—two more years than the Lasko is covered by. But our new small room runner-up pick, the cheaper Vornado VH10, can pump out more heat than either our main pick or the ATH1.
’Longhi TRD40615T is an oil-filled radiator. It employs digital dials instead of the analog sliders and switches found on our main large room pick and has a digital 96-setting timer that will remember its settings even after the heater has been unplugged. But it was only able to increase the temperature of our test area by 1.6°F in the same amount of time that our main pick, the De’Longhi SafeHeat, raised it by 2.7°F.
The Comfort Zone CZ499 ceramic heater costs almost twice as much as the Lasko 745200 does and was only able to raise the temperature of our test area by 2.5°F in 20 minutes. In addition to this, Jim reported that its thermostat provided reading several degrees higher than the actual amount of heat that the hardware was producing.
We liked the contemporary good looks of the Crane EE-8079. It comes equipped with a remote control, an air filter and the ability to oscillate a full 360 degrees. Unfortunately, it failed to impress us as a heater. Despite costing close to $100 more than the Lasko 754200, it was only able to warm our test area up an additional five degrees Fahrenheit in 20 minutes and Jim discovered that its thermostat registered the temperature in the area around the heater several degrees lower than it actually was.
De’Longhi’s HVY1030 is in the same price range as the Lasko 754200. But it only comes with a one-year warranty—while the Lasko is covered for three—and could only raise the temperature of our test area by 3.6°F in the time allotted to it. Pass.
Dyson’s hardware did well in our fan tests this past spring, so we had high hopes for their AM09. It’s a ceramic heater that has the potential to serve as a pretty decent fan when the weather’s warm. You can argue that a lot of fan-forced heaters, even the cheap Lasko 754200, can do that. But the Dyson’s large, impeller-driven design makes it a better fan than any of the other heaters we tested this year. It comes with a remote that can control the hardware’s temperature level, oscillation, power, and built-in timer. It also has a cool focused heat feature that works to direct the flow of air, hot or cold, at a single isolated area. That’s nice for anyone that feels colder than everyone else that they live with, although the heater will still eventually heat up the rest of the area through convection. But here’s the thing: The Dyson costs $400 at the time of writing, and that’s insane when you consider the fact that it’s not a great heater. In our 20-minute test, it only managed to raise the temperature of our test area by 4.1°F—3.3°F less than our main pick, which costs much, much less.
The Holmes HFH436WGL-UM is a bathroom-safe heater that comes with a built-in ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). It’s the only heater with a GFCI built in, which is nice (but your bathroom outlets should be GFCI types already). It comes with a timer, but unfortunately, it can only be set in large, preset increments—a half hour, for example. So it might be useful for warming up your bathroom before you have your morning shower, but beyond this, the timer holds little utility. Jim found that, at 46 decibels, it was the noisiest heater we tested this year. But it only warmed up our test area by 4.2°F. If you’re looking for a device to heat up a small area like a bathroom, it might make you happy, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend it for a larger area than that, given the limitations of the hardware.
Operating at 33 decibels, the Vornado VH200 is whisper quiet by fan-forced heating standards. And like the Vornado VH10, it comes with a five-year warranty. Unfortunately, it only heated up our test area by 3.9°F in 20 minutes. As it costs more than our main small room pick, we don’t feel this is adequate.
The same can be said for the Vornado TVH500. It was only able to raise the temperature of Jim’s test room by 4.9°F. With that kind of performance, even when you consider the hardware’s metal exterior, digital timer, easy-to-use controls, and five-year warranty, it’s pretty hard to justify its high price.
The Bionaire BCH9214RE-BM also failed to impress us. While it comes equipped with a 24-hour timer, digital thermostat controls, and a remote control, it only managed to raise the temperature by 3.9°F during our tests. More than this, Jim reported that the heat it provided was uneven, with multiple cold spots detected by his testing hardware throughout the area around the heater.
Heaters we dismissed in the past
We’ve tested a lot of heaters over the past four years. Many didn’t make the grade.
The fan-forced ceramic 8.9-inch-by-9.6-inch-by-5.3-inch Impress 1500-watt Space Heater and 8.34-inch-by-6.55-inch-by-11.66-inch Lasko 5409 heaters overheated and shut down during our timed 20-minute heat test. The good news is, the overheat switch built into both pieces of hardware work like a charm, keeping us from turning them back on until they had cooled down. The bad news is that if they can’t run for 20 minutes in a controlled environment without running into trouble, you really don’t want them in your house. For the sake of Jim’s safety and for that of anyone else out there who trusts our guides, we disqualified them from the competition and immediately ceased testing.
We also called in the De’Longhi EW7707CB Safeheat 1500W ComforTemp Portable Oil-filled Radiator but weren’t impressed. It measures 13.8 inches by 25 inches by 10.8 inches in size and weighs 24.2 pounds. The EW7707CB’s Achilles heel is that it has no timer. On a heater that heats up instantly, this might not be a big deal. But given the roughly hour-long lead-up you need to get an oil-filled radiator up to temperature, a timer is almost a must in order to ensure that it’s warmed the area you’ve set it up in when you return home to work or before you wake up in the morning.
The Lasko 5624 Low Profile Silent Room Heater was the only piece of hardware to best our radiator pick’s monthly usage cost. It costs less than the De’Longhi and operates for a buck less per month. But we dislike it because its heat is quick to dissipate once turned off, and due to its low profile and large 39.75-inch-by-5.5-inch-by-9-inch footprint, Jim feels that it poses a tripping hazard.
We tested the Dyson AM05. It’s a tower heater that weighs weighs six pounds and measures 8.5 inches by 6.7 inches by 25.2 inches in size. The Dyson boasts an monthly energy cost that’s three dollars lower than our De’Longhi radiator pick, a remote control, a low decibel output for a fan-forced ceramic heater, and the ability to do double duty as an oscillating fan in the summer. But it was beaten by the Lasko 745200 in our 20-minute heating test, only managing to increase our test area’s temperature by 3.1°F—compare that to the Lasko’s 7.4°F increase. The Dyson’s long game was a little better: It increased the temperature of our test area by about 2°F more than either of our main picks. But given its cost, the Dyson’s lackluster performance is embarrassing. You could buy three of our De’Longhi radiator picks for that price—or 13 Lasko 745200s—and still have enough left over to go see a movie with a friend. This might also be a good time to mention that in April of 2014, Dyson was forced to recall the heater due to 82 of them short-circuiting. If you own one and haven’t done so, stop using it right away and send it back to Dyson for a free repair.
The Vornado TVH500 Whole Room Vortex Heater is a ceramic plate heater that comes with a five-year warranty, easy-to-use digital controls, and a nine-hour timer. It’s 9.4 inches by 11.4 inches by 11.6 inches in size and weighs close to nine pounds. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 86 points out of a possible 100 (unfortunately, the link to their review is no longer active). But when Jim tested it, he found that it was only capable of raising our test space’s temperature by 3.1°F after 20 minutes of operation. With its 7.4°F heat increase, our Lasko pick blew the TVH500 out of the water. And as the Lasko costs much less, we can live with it having two-years-shorter warranty coverage.
I looked at the 600/1,200-watt Crane EE-6353 ceramic heater. It is only 20 inches tall, comes with a remote control, oscillates, and has a built-in shutdown timer. That said, it’s more expensive to operate than the more-powerful 1,500-watt TRD0715T, and I found it to be kind of top-heavy, making it easy to knock over. Even with a tip-over switch, that’s a dealbreaker for me.
The 1,500-watt De’Longhi DCH1030 Safeheat was a lot more stable than the Crane EE-6353. But unlike the Crane, the Safeheat DCH1030 doesn’t oscillate. Plus, it costs $81 per month to operate, which is close to $50 more per month than this year’s picks will cost you. That’s insane.
I also tested the Sunpentown SH-1507 Mini Tower Heater, a Holmes HFHVP3, and Crane’s EE-6490 Space Heater. They all had hotter surface temperatures, took longer to heat the room, and were less energy-efficient than our large room pick was.
The Optimus H-6010 Portable Oil-filled Radiator Heater was the only radiator-style heater I tested in the original version of this guide that had a cooler surface temperature than the TRD0715T Safeheat. It weighed four pounds less too. Unfortunately, despite being cheaper to buy initially, the Optimus wasn’t able to raise the temperature of the room as quickly as the Safeheat did, and at $52 a month to operate, it’s not as good a deal as the De’Longhi radiator in the long run.
We also looked at the Lasko 755320 ceramic tower heater. It came equipped with digital controls, which is cool, but there’s no battery in the heater, so every time you unplug it you have to reprogram all of your settings. Not cool. What’s more, it wasn’t capable of increasing the temperature of our test area as quickly as the 754200 did.
The Vornado iControl proved to be pretty quiet for a fan-forced ceramic heater, producing only 38 decibels of sound. It also had a relatively cool surface temperature of 93.9°F. But it was only able to raise the temperature of our test area by 8.2°F in a one-hour period. Given that our small area heating pick was able to best this at close to a fifth of the cost, I took it out of the running. It was, however, the most efficient heater we tested, with a monthly energy usage of $31, which is six dollars less per month than the 754200, but that’s only if you’re running it eight hours a day. It’s gonna be a while before you recoup the upfront price difference in energy saved.
We weren’t impressed by the Lasko 6462 either. It was well-liked by the folks at Consumer Reports and is unique in the fact that it can oscillate a full 360 degrees, so you can set it up in a room and have it blow heat in every direction, if that sounds useful to you. Jim found that its thermometer was inaccurate and often provided higher readings that went against what his handheld testing equipment was telling him. And while its fan was capable of moving a lot of air, it still didn’t manage to heat the room up as fast as our main ceramic pick, the Lasko 754200. It also costs more. Pass.
Based on how well our current Lasko heater pick has performed in testing over the past two years, Jim and I had high hopes for the Lasko 751320 Ceramic Tower Heater with Remote Control. The 751320 measures 8.5 inches by 7.25 inches by 23 inches in size, weighs about seven pounds, and comes with a remote control so you can turn it on or off without getting off your rump. It also has a seven-hour programmable timer and can oscillate to help ensure more-even heat distribution. Sadly, it was unable to best our Lasko small-room pick in our 20-minute heating test, and over time it proved to have what Jim described as a “lousy thermostat.” This made the heater unreliable for maintaining a consistent temperature. What’s more, its thermostat could only be dialed up or down in five-degree intervals. Not exactly what I’d call ideal.
The SoleusAir HGW-308R is a mica panel heater that looks promising on paper and has great performance: It’s silent, provides almost instant heat, and generated a respectable 19.6°F change in our test area in one hour’s time. But Jim found that its poorly-designed wheels and wall-mounting system were a frustration and believed the latter could potentially pose a fire hazard for users.
The Vornado AVH2 is a ceramic plate heater. Like the Lasko 754200, it comes with analog heat controls, a fan for pumping out heat (or moving around the cool in the summer), a handle, and an overheat switch. Unlike the Lasko, it also offers an anti-freeze setting so you can set it up in your house or cottage near your pipes and it’ll heat the room up every time the temperature drops low enough that there’s a risk of the pipes freezing. But that’s not reason enough to pay more than twice what you would likely pay for the Lasko hardware. (Unless you’re terrified of burst pipes, I guess. But why not just leave the Lasko heater on low in your home instead?) What’s more, Jim found that the 754200 outperformed the Vornado AVH2 with a lower monthly usage cost ($33 per month versus $39), a higher hourly heating rate (the Lasko heated our test area by 14.7°F in an hour while the Vornado only managed a 10.7°F increase), and a cooler surface temperature.
The De’Longhi TRN0812T is an oil-filled radiator that’s small enough to use in a bathroom or other cramped space. And it comes equipped with a GFCI-rated electrical plug, a rare safety feature to find in a space heater. Amazon users seem to like it well enough—it earned a 3.5-star average rating from the 274 people who bothered to write in and talk about it. But we think you’d be crazy to buy this thing. Jim found that the radiator’s peak surface temperature hit higher than 262°F. That’s hot enough to burn anyone who accidentally touches it and poses a significant ignition risk to flammable materials in its vicinity. No like. Additionally, at 16.8 pounds, the TRN0812T might be as light as a feather in comparison to the 25-pound Safeheat, but it’s still pretty heavy. That it doesn’t come on wheels or with a handle might make it difficult to move for some people, especially if it’s been running for a while. Who wants to grab something that hot?
We also tested the De’Longhi TRD40615E, an oil-filled radiator with digital controls that the company released earlier last year. It’s around the same size and weight as the our favorite oil-filled radiator, the De’Longhi TRD0715T Safeheat, and it comes with digital controls. But it costs five more bucks a month to run and couldn’t heat the room up as fast as our pick could (in last year’s tests, the TRD40615E pushed the thermometer up by 4.2°F; our pick: 6.6°F). A two-degree difference might not be huge if we were talking about ceramic heaters, which are designed to throw out heat almost instantly, but for hardware that already heats up slow to begin with, a two-degree variance is a big deal. Add to this the fact that the new De’Longhi hardware’s digital controls have to be reprogrammed every time you decide to unplug and you’ll see why we feel that the less-expensive, time-tested Safeheat is a better deal.
A word on safety
Space heaters caused more than 20,000 fires in the US between 2005 and 2009, according to a 2011 report by the National Fire Protection Association. How do you keep safe?
We asked former Fire Advisor to the Office of the Fire Commissioner for British Columbia’s Vancouver Island Region, Gary McCall, who spent 30 years as a firefighter and fire chief. McCall said the first step to safely using any portable heater is to buy one that’s certified by either the CSA or the ULC (or just plain old UL in the United States).
All of the hardware we tested complied with at least one of these safety standards. In addition to this, it’s important to read the heater’s manual for any hardware-specific warnings and to keep combustibles at least three feet away from a heater. Keep yourself at least three feet away, too. Space heaters are designed to supplement the home’s main heating system—not to be a primary heat source—so you ideally won’t have to crowd in too close to the device.
There’s also a big rule that many people don’t know: “A lot of manufacturers will tell you flat out that you shouldn’t be using the heater with an extension cord,” McCall said. If you absolutely must use one, make sure the cord’s length and gauge are rated for the electrical demands of a heater. Set it up so it’s not a tripping hazard, and don’t run it under a carpet or overhead.
What to look forward to
To make sure you’d be able to get our heater picks before the cold weather sets in, we started the update to this guide earlier than usual this year. But this meant running our tests before we could get our hands on some new heaters due out this fall—some of which we felt could be strong contenders for the guide. We’ll conduct a second round of testing this fall and plan to update this guide again in November.
Space Heaters (Subscription Required), Consumer Reports
Space Heater Reviews, Good Housekeeping
The Best Space Heaters, This Old House
Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment, National Fire Protection Association,According to a 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association, between 2007 and 2011, most home heating fire deaths (81%) and injuries (70%) and half (51%) of associated direct property damage involved stationary or portable space heaters. So how do you keep safe?
Originally published: October 30, 2015